CIA gets bombarded with spy wannabes after attacks

by Tara Kyle | 11/14/01 6:00am

If the United States' current efforts in the war against terrorism leave you with a newly discovered urge to play spy, you're hardly alone -- in the weeks since Sept. 11, the Central Intelligence Agency has seen a tremendous surge in its popularity as a potential employer.

Over the last two months, the CIA has received roughly 28,500 applications, translating to a tenfold increase, according to CIA spokesman Tom Crispell. Although the highest numbers came in the week immediately following the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania crashes, Crispell reported that the Agency continues to obtain as many resumes per day as ordinarily come in each week.

Interest in intelligence careers has skyrocketed both due to pervasive sense of renewed patriotism and the tightening market of jobs in the financial and technological industries.

The CIA has not, however, stepped up its recruiting efforts in the aftermath of the attacks, according to Crispell.

"We have more requests from universities and colleges than we are capable of covering," Crispell said, explaining that the CIA is currently in the fourth year of an ongoing recruitment drive.

Though a representative of the agency joined rows of investment bankers, lawyers and consultants at Dartmouth's Career Fair last month, graduating seniors with a serious desire to join up face limited opportunities and steep competition.

The Resume Game

Jobs available at the CIA fall into five categories: language, analytical and professional positions, clandestine service and positions for scientists, engineers and technology experts.

No set formula exists for successful entrance into the CIA; the agency takes into account "a wide array of backgrounds and skills," Crispell said. Fluency in foreign languages, life experience abroad, strong interpersonal and analytical skills and a demonstrated passion for foreign affairs are all attractive qualities.

Crispell noted that unless an individual is multilingual or exceptionally proficient in technologies, it is difficult to obtain even entry-level positions without an advanced degree or years of experience in the workforce.

The CIA looks for applicants with technical expertise in computers, engineering and the hard sciences. Liberal arts oriented students should focus on area studies -- majors such as Asian or Russian Studies. Also in demand are persons who speak "hard languages" such as Arabic, Farsi, Korean, Chinese and Russian.

Not surprisingly, descriptions of work in the area of clandestine service are sparse. The CIA's official website notes that these jobs "demands an adventurous spirit, a forceful personality, superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind, and a high degree of personal integrity, courage, and love of country."

The path to such positions is the Professional Trainee Program. The agency favors students with undergraduate or advanced degrees in international business/finance/relations, economics, physical science, or nuclear/biological/chemical engineering. Other requirements include foreign language proficiency, personal integrity, and an "ability to take calculated risks."

An accepted applicant works as either a Collection Management Officer or Operations Desk Officer in Washington D.C. before undergoing an evaluation for promotion to Collection Management Officer or Operations Officer (read: spy). At entry level, employees receive $34,000 to $42,000 for their efforts in safeguarding national security.

One option in place for current undergraduates interested in training for the less glamorous but substantially safer analytical and technical positions is the highly competitive Student Trainee Program.

If selected, students are expected to maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 and alternate their collegiate work with three semesters (or four quarters) of employment at the CIA.

There are a few requirements applicants can't get around for any position: they must be U.S. citizens and they must undergo an extensive background check, polygraph, and medical examination.

Hard Times

Recruiters from the CIA weren't always welcomed in Hanover; in the relative peace of the late 1980s, controversy surrounding human rights issues and hiring practices erupted at college campuses across the country, including Dartmouth.

On October 19, 1989, some 40 students and faculty members protested the CIA's presence on campus by invading Career and Employment Services Office with chants of, "Stop the killing, stop today, we don't want the CIA."

The demonstrators objected to the CIA's existence and methods, calling the agency, "one of the most murderous, subversive and reactionary vehicles of Yankee imperialism in the post-war era," in a written statement.

However, the main focus of the group was to compel the CES to discontinue its allowance of the CIA recruitment on campus on the basis of a practice at odds with the College's Equal Employment Opportunity Commitment: CIA policy forbade the hiring of homosexuals.

Dartmouth permitted the CIA to conduct interviews on campus despite this inconsistency because of federal law mandated the organization's hiring practices.

In a column entitled "Equal, Yet Unequal," The Dartmouth Editorial Board took the side of the protestors.

"The presence of the Central Intelligence Agency on the Dartmouth campus is an abominable violation," it stated. "Although the United States needs the CIA to defend interests at home and abroad, Dartmouth does not need to pollute its nondiscrimination policy with intellectually dishonest provisions just to accommodate a Federal organization."

The policy that forbade the hiring of homosexuals was written into law during the Cold War based on a concern that persons with alternative lifestyles would be particularly vulnerable to blackmail.

The CIA repealed the rule in the mid '90s.

"The Agency took the view that individuals applying for a job should be assessed as a whole person," Crispell said, adding, "As cultural attitudes changed, our attitudes changed."

Crispell noted that he was not aware of any protests against CIA recruiting procedures in recent years.

Fair Employment at Dartmouth

Career Services requires that any company or organization wishing to conduct informational sessions or recruitment interviews on campus must sign off on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commitment. Along with guarding against discrimination, this agreement requires that employers meet a number of restrictions including notifying both the College and affected students of any drug testing two days in advance.

Groups that refuse to sign the form may still host a table at the Career Fair, but must schedule all appointments off campus.

Students who object to an organization's presence at Dartmouth have the right to call for an educational forum, as occurred in the 1989 case.

In this situation, a representative of the offending group responds to student inquiries. According to Assistant Director of Career Services Monica Wilson, such action has not been taken for many years.